1. “Fallen” – Gert Taberner. Subtlety is difficult and underappreciated, which makes it pretty unappealing. However, Taberner here masters subtlety. From the careful, gentle strumming to the unadorned, direct vocal performance to the earnest, honest lyrics, every piece here has touches that belie the great amount of work that went into it. Fans of Glen Hansard, Damien Rice, and Passenger will find themselves in love.
2. “Photographs” – Chloe Jane. Chloe Jane’s interpretation of acoustic pop in 2016 is absolutely lovely, incorporating the best of what we’ve come to expect from acoustic pop. Immediate production, catchy melodies in the verse and chorus, glockenspiel, a great arrangement that adds to the quality of the song but doesn’t get in the way, and an overall sense of happiness, even though the song is sad. This is how you do acoustic pop right.
3. “Farewell Teddy” – Patrick Eugene. A quirky, unusual tale of paranoia written in the style of 1920s/1930s comic pop, the sort that descended from old-school burlesque theaters and the like. Adventurous listeners, rejoice.
4. “Any Town” – Joey Salvia. Hollering is the time-tested weapon of the folk protest singer, but Salvia shows here that an incisive set of lyrics and a calm delivery can be just as devastating. This one’s about suburban sprawl and the loss of distinct places in what I like to call “big box America”–but it’s also just a really great sounding song.
5. “Noah Jade” – Dog Mountain. A humble little song: a companion for the road, a friend in time of need, a fragile peace, a warm fire, comfort.
6. “The Northern State” – Jordie Saenz. This tender, intimate eulogy for a lost loved one features tape hiss that provides warmth, but the rest of the instruments are clear and bright. The fingerpicking and free-floating arrangement are reminiscent of early work by Sufjan Stevens and his collaborators.
7. “Exposta” – Johnny Fox. Have you ever heard an Irishman sing in Portuguese? If you click the link, you may have the experience for the first time. The acoustic-based arrangement falls somewhere between the perky-yet-subdued work of Lisa Hannigan and the enthusiastic cultural melange of Beirut.
8. “Hey There Miss” – Eric Smith. A little bit coffeeshop singer/songwriter, a little bit Laurel Canyon alt-country, a little bit Dawes, and a little bit Billy Joel love song results in a song with a whole lot of heart.
9. “Gold Ring” – Redvers Bailey. The oft-goofy, oft-ecstatic Bailey calms his work and produces a lovely acoustic singer/songwriter song anchored by a remarkable falsetto. It’s closer to Brett Dennen than Kimya Dawson, but it still works beautifully.
10. “Better Lands” – When Tomorrow Becomes Yesterday. A delicate, fragile acoustic tune featuring a beautiful trio vocal performance that evokes the uncertainty of climate change in sound and lyric. The kalimba only adds to the fragile otherness of the piece.
11. “Cave” – Matt Millz. Sometimes all you need is a trembling voice, a guitar, and an opening line of “I had a cave / that was three years deep” to suck the listener in.
12. “In Your Name” – Tyson Motsenbocker. Grief, faith, doubt, and politics are all often all wrapped together, and Motsenbocker’s tune balances them all in this moving singer/songwriter tune.
13. “Luna” – Akira Kosemura. Patience–this clip does start out with 20 seconds of silence and the image of birds flying. That enforcing of peace is the essence of the lo-fi piano composition that follows: amid the sound of piano pedals working and Kosemura sighing, a tranquil piano elegy unspools.
14. “Death” – Theo Alexander. This piano piece is anchored by an ostinato mid-range note pattern but not dominated by it–there’s a murky sense of change and uncertainty that course through the piece as the sections change. There’s a touch of John Luther Adams’ emotive clouds at the back half of the piece as well, making this a diverse, intriguing piece over the two and a half minutes of the work.
15. “Black Water” – James McWilliam. A yearning, searching orchestral piece driven by a forlorn violin solo, this composition balances tension through the continuous movement of the orchestra and despair through the soloist.
16. “Take Me In” – Broken Stems. I don’t usually mix my media in these posts, but this song is elegant and the video is haunting. Both are very much worth your time. The video is especially powerful: I can’t watch it without shivers. Don’t multitask this one–dedicate the 3:27. It’s worth it.